For my last blog post of the month, I planned to write about Robert Hammel’s work mixing video with theater and dance. But after interviewing Bob, I found that he had also given me insight into my own motivations to make art.
Bob started out a set designer, working for theaters up and down the East Coast. When he moved to Minneapolis, he got a day job as a film editor and eventually began to mix the two worlds. In the mid 1980’s, he collaborated with Mary Ellen Childs on two video wall pieces that sought to follow the movement and heighten the impact of two pieces of music, one featuring drums and the other, accordions.
In the last seven years he has returned to the theater, appearing in several plays as well as collaborating with several dancers and theaters. His theater work has ranged from short trailers for groups like Z Puppets Rosenschnoz to imagery on a complex multi-screen set-up that alternately served as set, atmosphere, historical documentation and alternative reality for Nimbus Theater’s TVMen.
Always a fan of dance, Bob seems most interested in his work with choreographers. “Dance for camera is becoming important,” he says.
Like Vanessa Voskuil, he is intrigued by the potential of choreographers making their own personal cinema. Most recently he has completed a documentary about six McKnight Dance Fellows and collaborations with Ragamala Dance and Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum. He’s looking forward to working with Chvala on his upcoming, Heaven, and Black Label Movement's science/dance spectacular: Choreography of the Moving Cell: Self-Organization and Catastrophe through the Lens of Embodied Artmaking.
Looking back on almost thirty years in the Twin Cities, Bob reflects that he came here because he heard about the great theater scene, which largely consisted of the Guthrie, Theater in the Round, and the Old Log on the professional level and a bunch of others that were labeled “community theaters.”
“Because of the drop in the price for gear, and [because of] places like IFP, it seems like that’s where film is right now:” Minnesota is a community that's growing fast, with a few big producers (Werc Werk Works and River Road Entertainment) and a lot of film artists trying to move from amateur to semi-pro or semi-pro to pro.
Echoing my last post and Kevin Obsatz’s article, Bob notes that the difficulty of monetizing art is perennial. People work for years for nothing and a few lucky and talented people are able to make it their career. But he reminded me that the reason so many people do it is the joy of making art. “It constantly amazes me how people make things – that’s what they want to do!”
And they want to share it. Bob points to the traffic jam on Franklin Avenue he recently drove through that was caused by the Foot In The Door show at the MIA. People coming out to see the art their friends made. That sounds a lot like some audiences for small theaters.
Which finally put me in mind of my own case, coming to Minneapolis right out of college, meeting people by working on the May Day Parade at In the Heart of the Beast and doing short bits for Balls Cabaret. It took me years to make any art I would care to look at now, but I was learning and making friendships that have lasted to this day.
The community we built was more important for my quality of life than a paycheck would have been. Amidst my scheming about how to turn my passion into money, it’s good for me to remember that. Thanks, Bob.